In the early 1980s a cable pioneer named William von Meister and the company, CVC, were looking for a way to use modem transmission technology, they had tried using it to transmit music, but legal issues caused cable providers to pull the plug.
So CVC was stuck with a delivery service and nothing to deliver. So they converted the system to transmit video games for the Atari 2600. This allowed users to call up a system and, for a fee, download games to their GameLine modules. The game would typically work for 5-10 plays, after which the user would have to connect to GameLine again and pay for another download.
These games were available 24/7 and they even allowed you to preview ones that weren’t in stores. Price-wise it worked out to about 10 cents per play. Which to try out a game before dropping $30-$50, was a good deal.
The GameLine device looked like an oversized silver Atari cartridge with a phone jack on the side. The games on GameLine were all from third-party game makers, the largest of which was the underrated Imagic.
The unite cost about $60 and then you paid a $15 one-time membership fee. When you do, you will start receiving their Gameliner Magazine every month.
It was simple to use, you hooked up to your Atari 2600 or ColecoVision with expansion module and then plugged in your phone line. You then register using their toll-free number (1-800-CVC-2100) and once you do, you browse using your joystick. When you decided to try a game, your Credit Card, which you gave during registration, will be charged.
CVC and GameLine did not survive the Video Game Crash of 1983, but members of the company would eventually go on to found Quantum Link, which eventually became AOL. So as you can see, everything goes back to the VCS.